For Sel Burrows and his supporters, the fight against crime goes on.
Burrows, 75, has been actively preventing and reducing crime in the Point Douglas area, where he has lived for more than 14 years. He’s well-known by community members and criminals as "the man who lives in the yellow house," a title he accepts with a proud grin on his face.
Point Powerline is the result of Burrows’ work. It’s a staple for Point Douglas residents who are apprehensive about calling the cops after witnessing suspicious or criminal activity; they call Point Powerline — a citizens-on-watch organization — instead, which passes along the message to the Winnipeg Police Service.
The lengthy disruption Burrows, in collaboration with fellow community residents, has caused in Point Douglas’ crime scene provides him with a leg to stand on, so to speak, when it comes to taking his efforts a step further, he said.
This is why he decided to release a series of reports regarding crime prevention and reduction in Winnipeg’s downtown. Parts one and two of Burrows’ Making Downtown Winnipeg Safer and Friendlier report were released in December and January, respectively, with a third and possibly a fourth part on the way. The package is a response to a recent Manitoba Police Commission report, which detailed actions to attack downtown’s crime issue.
While the report has some good ideas, Burrows said, the overall approach is inadequate. The commission’s report emphasizes foot patrols, stricter panhandling laws, and taking notes from Minneapolis’ Downtown Improvement District model — a private sector-led safety improvement initiative.
"It was so mechanical. It refused to understand that we cannot solve the problem by hiring more police and more foot patrols. They’re good and we need them, but without the community involved — the people who live downtown, the people who own little stores with their storefront who see what’s going on — we will fail and we don’t want to fail. Not wanting to fail is the reason we issued our report," said Burrows, who received the Order of Manitoba in 2017 for his work in Point Douglas.
"I think everybody in Manitoba wants to reduce the crime rate and we need action to make downtown safer and friendlier, but it has to be effective action, not something imported from Minneapolis."
Additionally, Burrows said some of the actions listed in the commission’s report, such as holding quarterly public consultation meetings, are impersonal ideas.
"(The commission) doesn’t know that people just won’t come to public meetings; they don’t trust them, they don’t think there’s any point," he said.
The first part of Burrows’ report explores community involvement and the subsequent section outlines 19 recommendations to improve downtown.
Among those suggestions, Burrows said the major points include creating a non-emergency crime tip line for taxi drivers since they spend a lot of time downtown and witness suspicious activity, as well as establishing a resource similar to Point Powerline for downtown dwellers and visitors.
"Part of what we’re talking about is empowering people to identify things that can be stopped very easily."
Police also need to take more action against out of control house parties and hotels where sexual abuse against women and girls often happens, he said.
"We are very aggressive about out of control parties in Point Douglas. We had one over here where I had to pull a girl out of the river. She had been sexually assaulted. She was standing in her underwear in the river trying to decide whether to dive in or not. I happened to hear her so I was out, another woman came out, and we called the police and the police looked after her but they didn’t do anything about the party."
Burrows said Point Powerline pinned flyers to every nearby house stating what had happened as a result of the party, and that people should call them or the police if they notice a party happening there again.
"There’s never been another party there," he said.
At press time, the Winnipeg Police Service was reviewing Burrows’ report and could not provide a comment, according to spokesperson Const. Jay Murray. However, Burrows said he had already received a rather positive although unofficial response from police officials.
Point Douglas councillor Vivian Santos said she is planning to meet with Burrows to discuss how they can work together on the matter.
"Mr. Burrows makes very valid points in his memo, and I mostly agree with some of his suggestions. I truly hope that Winnipeggers really take the time to read it," Santos said in an email.
Burrows intends to publish a third report in February with a focus on the meth crisis.
"Most of the systems that we need are already in place, they need to be jangled and woken up and the community needs to insist that they do their job."
Community Journalist - The Times
Sydney Hildebrandt is the community journalist for The Times. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org